Wellcome Trust establishes first Translational Partnership in Germany - with the BIH and Charité

The Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin are the first institutions in Germany to receive funding to create a translational partnership with the UK-based Wellcome Trust. Via its translational partnerships, the Wellcome Trust supports institutions in finding new ways to translate biomedical discoveries into novel treatments, technologies and medical devices. Its partner institutions in Berlin will receive over €1.1 million in project funding. The Wellcome Trust, a politically and financially independent foundation, is thus expanding its translational partnership network, which already includes a number of university partners.

The Governing Mayor of Berlin and Senator for Higher Education and Research, Michael Müller, said: “I am delighted that the Wellcome Trust has established a presence in Berlin and will now become an active partner for our health capital. The fact that the BIH and Charité are among the first institutions in continental Europe to be funded under this scheme underscores their achievements and prominent position in the translational research field. The foundation’s engagement in Berlin is furthermore an important signal in terms of international collaboration, something that we hold very highly here in Berlin.”

Fostering a change in research culture

The overarching aim of the translational partnership between the Wellcome Trust and the BIH/Charité is to effect a change in research culture, thus maximizing the possibilities for translational medicine to benefit patients and society at large. The project team at the BIH/Charité will use the funding to raise the quality of biomedical research, improve the understanding of regulatory needs and establish incentives for translational research.

Project leaders are Professor Ulrich Dirnagl, Director of the BIH QUEST Center, and Professor Hans-Dieter Volk, Head of the Institute of Medical Immunology at Charité and Director of the BIH Center for Regenerative Therapies (BCRT). 

Overcoming barriers to translation

Stephen Caddick, Director of Innovations at the Wellcome Trust, said: “Science is international and needs collaboration and cooperation to succeed. Our translational partnerships seek to tackle some of the barriers discovery researchers face when translating their work by providing support at an institutional level – including financial support, mentorship, and regulatory advice. We’re delighted to be working in partnership with the BIH and Charité.”

The translational partners from Berlin already have a proven track record in moving forward translational projects. For example, researchers at the BIH Center for Regenerative Therapies leveraged research findings to develop genetically engineered immune cells, called Treg cells, which they then used to improve the long-term acceptance of transplanted organs. A successful phase 1 clinical trial study showed promising results, which are now being developed further clinically through the use of new technologies like CRISPR-Cas9.

Paving the way for personalized medicine

Professor Heyo K. Kroemer, Chairman of the Executive Board of Charité and BIH Executive Board Member, also expressed his delight about the partnership: “The Wellcome Trust is one of the world’s leading foundations focused on medical research and has so far supported research institutions like the University of Oxford and Cambridge University. That the BIH and Charité now belong to the foundation’s translational partnership network reflects the groundbreaking role that our translational research plays in paving the way for innovative personalized healthcare. This new partnership once again affirms that the Federal Government’s decision to integrate the BIH into Charité was the right one. In addition, the partnership is a great honour for our city, bestowing international recognition and visibility whilst simultaneously highlighting Berlin’s role as a biomedical research hub with a strong translational focus.” 

As Dean of Charité and interim Chairman of the BIH Executive Board, Professor Axel Radlach Pries recently attended Wellcome’s  Translational Partnerships’ Annual Meeting in London. “The BIH’s core mission is to advance translational medicine. As such, the pioneering work behind our motto ‘Turning Research into Health’ was clearly well received by the Wellcome Trust. In the context of this partnership, the BIH aims to help create a ‘translational ecosystem’ by systematically supporting the entire translational chain from laboratory findings to clinical application. Together, the BIH and Charité will serve as key partners in international efforts to develop new and improved medical therapies and diagnostic procedures for patients.” 

Developing a comprehensive translational ecosystem

"Crucial hurdles to translation often lie in the quality of biomedical research itself. QUEST aims to increase the value and benefits of medical research. As a result, QUEST addresses the exact questions that the Wellcome Trust is posing in its sustained drive to promote translation”, said Ulrich Dirnagl. “The translational partnership with the Wellcome Trust will enable us to further develop and expand our strategies for promoting translation.” 

Hans-Dieter Volk added: “The BCRT has a wealth of experience in introducing new diagnostics and therapies, including the very latest cell-based approaches. As a result, we have acquired a vast amount of expertise on regulatory issues. We now wish to transfer this knowledge to colleagues working in the field of translational medicine, adapting our findings as they evolve and thus addressing specific project requirements. By collaborating closely with the QUEST Center, we hope to develop a comprehensive translational ecosystem that will allow robust research findings to be swiftly transferred into innovative healthcare solutions.”